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Fashion Index: Could Google be plotting to take over retail?

Read out fashion index page to gain a barometer of trade in the UK.

Dan Coen, director of corporate advisory firm Zolfo Cooper

Dan Coen

Dan coen

You may have noticed a recent piece of research from Google and the British Retail Consortium. Using the former’s infinite search data, the two organisations were able to track consumer appetite for British fashion online. Among their other findings, they found that the number of searches by foreign shoppers looking for UK fashion was 13% higher in the first quarter of 2014 compared with the same period in the previous year.

As Drapersonline.com reported on Monday, the biggest surge in interest came from China, where there was a 50% uptick in total search volumes. British fashion brands have been making headway in China in recent years, which has coincided with a sharp growth in the use of smartphones and tablets in the world’s most populous country. One such brand is Burberry, which just last week announced the launch of a virtual store on Chinese etail platform Tmall.

That’s only part of the story, however. Google’s data reveals much more than where interest in British fashion brands is growing; it can also be used to pinpoint exactly how UK brands are reaching international consumers. For example, we now know that there was a 26% increase in overseas shoppers searching via their smartphones, and searches on tablets were up 17% year on year.

The Experian FootFall National Retail Index is reporting an improvement of +0.2% week on week. Of the companies surveyed, 42% noted a sales rise during the first two weeks in April. The strongest sector performance can be seen in footwear and leather sale

The Experian FootFall National Retail Index is reporting an improvement of +0.2% week on week. Of the companies surveyed, 42% noted a sales rise during the first two weeks in April. The strongest sector performance can be seen in footwear and leather sales, with 81% of retailers reporting a rise compared with this time last year. This could be a result of the Easter break. The year-to-date trend continues to report an improvement at +0.1%. This continues to report better performance compared with last year, where this week it had declined further and was reporting at -4.4%.

Aside from providing some detailed market insight for the industry, what does this research tell us about Google’s relationship with retail? Although released in collaboration with the BRC, the findings show the power that Google would have if, as we predict, it eventually decides to launch its own retail business venture.

Google is the biggest owner of data in the world. Through the vast amount of information it collects, the tech giant can do far more than simply pull out overarching industry trends - it allows the company to predict consumer behaviour to a very high degree of accuracy. If Google were to pair this information with advanced technology and manage to overlay a retail proposition on top, it could be a very powerful combination indeed.

In recent years, technology has managed to embed itself at the very heart of retail. The brands that have achieved the most success have been those using technology to target the right consumers with relevant products and messages at exactly the right time. Whereas existing brands have to go to great lengths to collect data on customer behaviour, Google already understands what people’s interests and tastes are based on their online searches.

So are we about to see Google venture into the retail space? By releasing research highlighting the insight its data can provide, Google could just be flexing its muscles. However, it still may be worth keeping an eye on the internet giant, as Google could be taking over the retail world in the not-too-distant future.

Fashion sales dipped deeply this week with like-for-likes falling just shy of negative double digits. The more specialist retailers fared better while mainstream fashion struggled almost universally. For more information email BDO’s Don Williams at don.w

Fashion sales dipped deeply this week with like-for-likes falling just shy of negative double digits. The more specialist retailers fared better while mainstream fashion struggled almost universally. For more information email BDO’s Don Williams at don.williams@bdo.co.uk

 

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